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  • Roxanne Noor

Reflections on Milan Kundera’s Death

On July 11, 2023, Milan Kundera died in Paris. I was halfway through his novel Immortality, when I received the news of his passing. It was a serendipitous feeling, like I was meant to be reading his mental gymnastics on the subject of death as he died.


Now, Kundera will remain etched in history through his poetic eloquence, and stand undying in the same manner as Goethe or Beethoven. They are inscribed into the stone column of European culture, and death solidified their mark.


Apart from reading Kundera’s book about immortality as he was dying, I received the news of his death a day after dreaming about him. In the astral realm, my friend Neil was impersonating Kundera, pretending to be this literary giant to gain social recognition. This dream seemed significant, not only because of its peculiar timing, but the urgency in which Neil was pretending to be somebody else, somebody he deemed greater than himself.


In our own ways, we are all trying to become immortal. There are a variety of methods, it can be building a family so the name lives on and the genes echo around worldly terrain, or it can be making a film that speaks to a new vision of the world, an ideology greater than our skin and nails.


Everyday, there is a vague awareness that we are dying. Even the most minor fears all have roots in our shared mortality. When we are reminded of the fragility of our lives, we ask ourselves what we will leave behind, what we will be remembered for. Even if we are not riddled by old age, these meanderings still rise like steam. What lives on?


“Death and immortality are an indissoluble pair of lovers.”


Kundera stated that there is minor immortality and great immortality. Minor immortality is living in the memory of those we were closest to, and major immortality is being a memory to many people, even those who never knew us personally.


Instead of the number of people we have touched, a greater question arises; how deep has that touch landed? What was the quality of that touch? We are remembered longer the closer we swim inward to the heart of others.


Death claims the body and its functions, but immortality claims the collective consciousness. Do we die when the body ceases, or do we die when we are unremembered?


From incessant posting on social media, and curating our profiles, to the way in which we engage in relationships, we are asking the world to remember us in a certain image. We can tend to it carefully like a bonsai tree, gently pruning it, but in the end our image lies in the hands of the other, in their interpretation of us.


“Does there exist another kind of direct contact between myself and their selves except through the mediation of the eyes. Can we possibly imagine love without anxiously following our image in the mind of the beloved?”


Immortality is an image of what the person was and what he left behind. We keep memorabilia, a photo of their face, their favorite sweater, or an obituary. None say much. But twenty five books speaks volumes.


The immaterial, like ideas and carefully strung words, change the fabric of life itself. The material has limits, therefore a difficulty to escape the sphere of superficiality.


Kundera has left us with a hundred contemplations on what it means to love, the nature of fate, and how to live as an artist within a heated political climate.


“The novelist teaches the reader to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude. In a world built on sacrosanct certainties the novel is dead.”


His novel, Immortality tackles only the profound. It supplies questions, observations, musings, and interweaves the tales of many imaginative characters, but gives no concrete answers. Kundera knew that even when a story ends, there is no landing place.


We don’t know what the end entails, but there is a recollection of the beginning and middle, and we write to remember.


In remembrance and reverence of Kundera, I can say that reading his work has altered my reality for the better. I suppose this is the role of a true artist, to frame reality in a way in which we recognize it first, then allow it to expand.


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